Lost down an alley behind Ballymaloe House is a quaint, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (I did) cottage, more likely to turn up in Hogsmeade than an up-market country hotel. If you do happen to notice it, and put your ear to the door, you’ll hear mysterious puffs and whirs, rattles and clatters. If you’re tall enough to peer through the window, you’re likely to see a bearded man with a stop-clock dangling from his neck, covering one eye with his hand and squinting with the other at a miniature blue Thomas the Tank engine spitting out small brown pellets. This is the Golden Bean coffee roastery and it was here that I headed on Friday of week 7 to chat with its proprietor, Marc Kingston.
This is him on the right. I stole this photo from his facebook page, thanks Marc 🙂
I mistimed my arrival and interrupted Marc mid-way through an experiment with new single origin Brazilian beans and watching him work, I could describe the roasting process as putting the green beans into the roaster and taking brown beans out. I can do this. Anyone can do this. The problem is, almost every point of the seemingly simple process can be tweaked to make the most marvelous coffee, or something utterly undrinkable. At every point, Marc would check his stop-clock, jot something in minuscule hand writing in his cheap spiral bound notepad. The stop-clock and the notepad, coupled with years of practice, knowledge and dedication means that Marc can make extraordinary coffee (and I can’t).
When the temperature got too hot even for Marc (no aircon in medieval outhouses), it was time for a cigarette break, and I quizzed this extraordinary man on his work. Here’s what he said:
Running this roastery clearly takes a lot of experience, how did you get into it?
I don’t really know… I started quite young. Funnily, most of my family don’t even really like coffee, but I had an aunt who liked black coffee, and I started drinking black coffee with her from the age of three and that was it. I’ve worked for a long time as a barista and at other roasteries, then I founded the Golden Bean here five years ago. I started just selling a small amount at farmers’ markets and so on, but we’ve grown a lot since then and I now have a team of people helping with the roasting and packing.
You’re around coffee all day every day, are you now impervious to caffeine?
I don’t drink much coffee anymore, I can tell the flavour of the beans by sight now. The other day I realised I’d been for over a week without one. But when I do, I like espresso. The caffeine goes straight to your head through your tongue. It also has a lot of antioxidants – there is a lot of research currently about the health properties of coffee.
Where do you get your beans from?
I think to get the best coffee you need to know where it comes from. I do a lot of research into the origins of the beans and how they are farmed to figure out what’s really going on rather than rely on a fair trade and organic label. I buy the beans through a wholesaler in London who knows what I like and who makes sure the farmers are paid on time for their stock.
In the movie Notting Hill, Hugh Grant sploshed an instant cup of coffee from a café over Julia Roberts – set today, it would be a soy flat white with an extra shot. Have you seen a lot of change in the way people drink coffee?
Absolutely – people have been satisfied by drinking stale, mediocre coffee for years and I think without even really knowing it. There is a big revival in independent roasteries in the UK but also across Europe and the US, and people are looking for an alternative to mass-produced homogenous coffee. Like wine, coffee needs some consideration when being tasted, and customers are beginning to wise up. That said, wine is easier… apart from a cork screw and a glass, the consumer can’t do too much to ruin it by accident, where as there are a hundred ways to ruin the taste of well roasted beans. The success of Nespresso is a bit of a shame, people pay above the odds for what ends up as bad coffee. Not cleaning up has perks, though.
(At this point I resist telling him that as of two months ago, I’d have a daily deliberation over the different coloured capsules with my work bud, Andrea. That feels a long time ago! So I ask…)
As a coffee luddite, what coffee beans would be a good bet for me to buy?
My favourite are Ethiopian or Guatemalan beans, which are small and very dense and are grown at high altitudes, over 1700m or so and from long-established plants. This gives a clean, acidic, fruity flavour. I’d start there, because it’s very distinctive.
If you could only drink one more cup of coffee in your lifetime, who would make it?
I’d probably ask Tim Wendelboe. He is a great roaster based in Oslo, Norway and he and his research team are doing really interesting things which has come to be associated with ‘the Scandinavian style’ – a stupid name, because all it means is a focus on sweetness and acidity. I really like it. I tried for three years to get him to come to the Litfest, and this year he finally came, which was grand (awkward moment when I remember I was quite snooty about Tim Wendleboe’s sold out totally exclusive cupping session at the Litfest in my previous post).
…and if you were to limit this to County Cork, Ireland?
There are a number of great cafes in Cork. Filter stock our Brazilian and Guatemalan beans and do a good job of it.
I can’t run to Cork every morning for a caffeine fix, so Marc kindly told me his two favourite Aeropress recipes for making a perfect coffee at home, and here they are.
What I learned this week: Don’t put your beans or ground coffee in the fridge or the freezer. Oops. Apparently contact with moisture will cause the beans to deteriorate. Better to store it in an air-tight glass or ceramic container in a dark, cool place. And don’t drink Nespresso.
Also, HOW COOL IS THIS COMPANY, bio-bean, which my friend Emily works for. They collect waste coffee grounds from coffee shops and the like, and turn these into zero-waste carbon-neutral biomass pellets which can be used to heat buildings, office blocks, supermarkets, or even that very same coffee shop which made the ground waste. It’s a circular economy, man – “there’s no such thing as waste, just resources in the wrong place”. Wish I’d thought of that.